Economic Stimulus: U.S. House Could Call for Test Tubes As Well As Pavement

U.S. scientists have been wondering whether research will be part of the upcoming economic stimulus package that Congress and President-elect Barack Obama are working on. Past economic stimulus packages have focused on massive public works projects as well as tax breaks to spur consumer and industry spending.

Those items are a good bet to be part of any economic recovery plan whose cost could top $1 trillion. But on Wednesday, congressional leaders will also hear a pitch for research.

That's because the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee has invited not only noted economists Martin Feldstein, Mark Zandi, and Robert Reich but also Maria Zuber, a professor of geophysics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and principal investigator on GRAIL, a NASA mission to measure variations in the moon's gravitational field.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will kick off the discussion, has made it clear that "investing in technology and innovation should be part of any economic recovery plan," says a spokesperson for the committee, a message that Zuber is expected to emphasize. Also making that point will be engineer Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed-Martin and author of the well-regarded 2005 National Academies' report Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future that called for a $20 billion investment in science education and research.

The steering committee is comprised of the chairs of seven standing House committees, including appropriations, science, energy and commerce, transportation, and ways and means. Its members will play a prominent role in shaping the package being hammered out this month between Congress and President-elect Obama.